Popular Science Monthly, October, 1929, pages 40-41, 153-155:
Merlin Hall Aylesworth
Drawn especially for POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY by B. J. Rosenmeyer

MERLIN  HALL  AYLESWORTH,  Showman  of  Radio
AS  PRESIDENT of the National Broadcasting Company, this minister's son has transformed broadcasting from a more or less haphazard novelty show into America's newest "big industry." In less than three years he has woven sixty scattered radio stations into a nation-wide network of entertainment, news, and education, building a system which can carry a single program to fifty million listeners.

Feeding  13,000,000  Radio  Sets

The  Head  of  a  Nation-Wide  Broadcasting  Chain  Tells  How  He  Delivers  Entertainment  and  News  to  a  Vast  Audience  of  Fifty  Million  People


THE best in radio for everybody, everywhere--it is an immense achievement. And it becomes doubly impressive as Mr. Aylesworth, in this interview, traces the businesslike, scientific system by which nation-wide broadcasting has been developed. What he says will make you appreciate more than ever what your radio set brings to you.--The Editor.
IN LESS than three years radio broadcasting has grown from a kind of hit-or-miss novelty show to almost a domestic necessity; from a scattering of small, independent, and often irresponsible enterprises to the newest of the nation's "big businesses." The days of "fishing around" to pick something out of the air besides amateur night programs have swiftly vanished. Instead, the owner of the average radio set, in almost any remote district of the nation, can readily bring in the finest broadcast programs of entertainment, news, and education. He can hear, across the continent, the inauguration of a president, a symphony concert, a championship football game, or news of the latest ocean flight. The best in radio is at his finger tips.
    All this has been brought about by system--by skillfully gathering the loose ends of broadcasting and tying them into a scientific, orderly business of serving the public.
    The secret is chain broadcasting.
    The other day, I talked with an earnest young business man whose vision and leadership have done much to forge the links the radio chain. He is Merlin Hall Aylesworth, the forty-two-year-old head of the National Broadcasting Company. In his Fifth Avenue office, in New York City, he explained to me the inner workings of the system which connects sixty broadcasting stations by wire, sixteen hours a day every day in the year, and which carries the best radio talent to 50,000,000 persons or more in every part of the country.

CHAIN broadcasting was an experiment when Aylesworth tackled it early in 1927. Under his direction it has answered, among other things, a question that puzzled all concerned in the days when listeners fiddled with cat whiskers and crystals on homemade sets: "Who is going to pay for programs?"
    England solved the problem by imposing a government tax on receiving sets and using the money to run government-operated stations. In America, however, chain programs, paid for by advertisers and radio manufacturers, form a large part of broadcast entertainment.
    "Briefly, what we have done by chain broadcasting," Mr. Aylesworth told me, "is to bring the best programs of New York stations within reach of all. By eliminating the element of distance, we have made it possible for anybody, anywhere, with any type of good radio receiver, to hear the best features on the air. Previously, only a few independent stations could afford to broadcast such features and only a fraction of the radio audience could hope to pick them up.
    "We have changed all this by connecting some sixty stations, all over the country, with leased telephone wires. The program offered by any one of them can be broadcast simultaneously by them all. Almost every part of the United States is within easy pick-up distance of one or other of these associated stations."
    Though the average time of the chain programs is only three and a quarter hours a day per station, the telephone company receives pay for the wire hookup for sixteen hours every day in the year. Some stations broadcast all the chain programs; some use hardly any of them; all broadcast purely local features at times. But the special wires of the nation-wide hook-up must be kept open at all times in readiness to give the whole country unusual features or news.

THESE wires, Mr. Aylesworth explained, run in pairs from WEAF, the principal station of the National Broadcasting Company, to every other station in the chain. For instance, one circuit directly connects Los Angeles, Calif., with WEAF. Last season, a football game played at Los Angeles was broadcast over the chain. Though the Los Angeles station was only a mile from the football field, the report was telephoned direct to New York, through the control room of WEAF, and back over the wires to the Los Angeles station and to all other stations in the chain. It had traveled 6,000 miles by special wire before being broadcast to the people who lived almost next door to the field where the game was played.
    "But, why wires?" I asked. "Why not increase the power of your best station and reach the other fifty-nine by radio, having them rebroadcast on their individual wave lengths?"
    "Try and do it," was his answer. "In the present state of the radio art, it cannot be done. Part of the program would get through. Part would be lost by fading, static, and interference. Because atmospheric disturbances and interference do not affect wires, we pay the American Telephone and Telegraph Company $2,000,000 a year to keep our stations connected. Some day engineers may show us how to get reliable communication between stations by radio, and we are experimenting in that direction."
    Only one station, WEAF, is owned by the National Broadcasting Company. It operates one other, WJZ. All associated broadcasting studios throughout the country are connected with these key stations in chains known as the Red Network, the Blue Network, the Pacific Coast Network, and in five smaller groups, independently owned and operated. They can take the chain programs or not, as they choose.

EVERY associated station that broadcasts a sponsored program for which an advertiser is paying receives fifty dollars an hour. If all the stations take a sponsored program, the advertiser must pay the price of nation-wide publicity. This means $9,230 an hour with the Red Network of forty-two cities connected with WEAF, or $7,960 an hour with the Blue Network of thirty-three cities connected with WJZ.
    In such programs, Mr. Aylesworth explained, there is perhaps only on percent of direct advertising and not more than twenty percent even of indirect advertising. The programs put on for advertisers are almost entirely entertainment.
    "Do you ever censor programs as they are being broadcast, switching off connections when a speaker says something disagreeable?" I asked. "You have been accused of that."
    Mr. Aylesworth smiled. "You mean when a speaker in the Democratic national convention was shut off in the midst of a denunciation of the Republican agricultural platform? That was an accident, and a funny one. Some prominent Democratic publishers called me on the telephone from Kansas City to protest. I started an immediate investigation, although I knew it had not been done deliberately.
    "I discovered that only the Eastern stations had been cut off. The interruption must have occurred somewhere on the telephone wires connecting these stations. The telephone company engineers traced the break. They found that three small boys near Pittsburgh had climbed a pole and cut out a length of wire to fix a cage for a pet rooster!"

THAT was an accident, as was the breaking down of one of the telephone circuits one night when Secretary Hoover was speaking. But Mr. Aylesworth told me of deliberate attempts to prevent certain messages from getting on the air.
    "On the night of Senator Curtis' acceptance speech," he said, "someone telephoned our control room. The man who took down the receiver heard an excited voice exclaim: "Stop the program! There's an SOS on the air. WEAF is the only station running! Cut off at once!"
    "The young man in charge was about to throw the switch, when the chief engineer intervened. He quickly tuned in on other stations. All were running. If the ruse had succeeded, Senator Curtis would have been cut off in the middle of his speech."
    Sometimes, when a piece of news of unusual interest or importance is reported, the broadcasting organization itself cuts in on a program. For example, last New Year's Day a California player in the East-West championship football game made a sensational run--in the wrong direction. That was unusual news. A program was interrupted long enough for a brief description of the freak event to be broadcast. In such a case, the sponsor, whose time on the air has been curtailed, is refunded a proportionate part of the sum he paid.
    "What happens in the studio when you get an unexpected piece of news or have to go off the air for an SOS?" I asked "Doesn't it throw your performers out of their stride?"
    "Not at all." smiled Mr. Aylesworth. "They never know it. They keep on with their programs just the same. But their microphones are disconnected until the SOS or whatever the interruption may be is out of the way."

IN BROADCASTING news events from points outside the studio, Mr. Aylesworth told me, "nemo men" play an important role. They set up the microphones at the scene of action, at football fields, ballrooms, banquet halls, theaters, or other places where special programs are broadcast. In New York City alone, there are nearly three dozen of these "nemo" points from which speeches, music, and entertainment are broadcast regularly. All lines from the "nemo" points lead to the control board of the main studio.
    When features are sent out from theaters or concert hails, the "nemo" operator must attend several performances or rehearsals in advance to make notes and prepare cues for the actual broadcasting, as well as to plan the arrangement of the microphones. As many as sixteen "mikes" may be employed in a typical theater pick-up.
    One hour before a "nemo" program is scheduled to go on the air, the circuits are tested to make sure everything is in order. Fifteen minutes before the opening selection, the lines are again tested. Five minutes before the deadline, the "nemo" operator is given his cue to stand by. Besides the regular "nemo" points with more or less permanent equipment, there are special points for special features. When Lindbergh returned from France, for example, radio reporters were stationed before microphones at the Washington Navy Yard, on the steps of the U. S. Treasury, on top of the Washington Monument, in the cupola of the Capitol, and at the flying field in Washington, so that every step of his progress could be reported.
    In this way chain broadcasting covers the great news events whenever they can be anticipated.
    A striking example of how a national hook-up can cover an important event, allowing speakers in all parts of the country to participate, was the opening of the Cascade Tunnel of the Great Northern Railroad, last January. Ralph Budd, president of the company, spoke from the tunnel's mouth, in the state of Washington. Then a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission spoke from Washington, D. C. General W. W. Atterbury, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, spoke from Philadelphia; Madame Schumann-Heink sang from San Francisco; an orchestra played in New York; and Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, closed the program with an address from Washington, D. C. There were twelve switches across the continent to make up a single program lasting one hour.

BROADCASTING news features is but one phase of the "unsponsored" programs paid for by the broadcasting company itself instead of an advertiser.
    "The main purpose of broadcasting," Mr. Aylesworth said, "is not to make money. It is to give the public such increasingly better programs that people will continue to buy and use radio sets and tubes. And that works to the advantage not only of the manufacturing companies whose money is invested in the National Broadcasting Company, but to all makers of radio equipment, and the general public as well.
    "I believe the time will never come when all radio programs will be sponsored by advertisers. There are certain public services that broadcasters must render if they are to continue in business. Sending out religious services is an example. We make no charge for broadcasting those. I believe the number of who listen to Dr. Cadman, Dr. Fosdick, Dr. Poling, and Rabbi Wise is greater than the total church attendance in the United States. "

THEN there are addresses by public officials. When the President of the United States speaks, we feel it our duty to give everybody a chance to hear him. The same is true for lesser officials on special occasions. Again, there is the noonday agricultural bulletin service prepared by the experts of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. It produces no revenue for us, but it reaches a great public which has signified its interest by writing us tens of thousands of letters. We also broadcast without charge the important sporting events, and many kinds of musical programs. We have one feature, 'Cheerio,' a brief inspirational talk every morning at half past eight which thousands of radio listeners regard as the most valuable thing they hear. We know that because of the letters we get--more than 100,000 a month. When 'Cheerio' last spring suggested that perhaps people were getting tired of hearing him, we got 56,000 letters in one day begging us not to let him stop."
    For these unsponsored entertainment and educational programs, supplied by the broadcasting company, each associate station is charged forty-five dollars an hour. They are at liberty to use as many or as few of the unsponsored hours as they desire.
    I wanted to know how many people are reached by chain broadcasting.
    "We can make a pretty close calculation," Mr. Aylesworth answered. "Manufacturers tell me that about 13,000,000 sets are now in use and that this year's sale of 5,000,000 or more, after allowing for replacements, will increase the number being used to more than 15,000,000. Allowing only a fraction over three persons to each set, we have a possible radio audience of 50,000,000 in the United States. "

INTERNATIONAL broadcasting is coming," said Mr. Aylesworth. "I have just returned from Europe, where I looked into that possibility. Though few European stations are equipped yet to render effective service, I found them all interested in our music programs and in our public addresses. Even on the Continent, there is a rapidly growing audience which understands English."
    One curious thing about English radio sets, Mr. Aylesworth related, is that headphones are used with most of them. There are few loudspeakers. In the British Isles, radio is almost universally called "wireless." When it is called "radio the word is pronounced with a short "a" as if it were spelled "raddio." During the last presidential campaign, many people made fun of Governor Smith for speaking of the "raddio." Apparently, he had authority for the pronunciation.
    Already international broadcasts are meeting with considerable success, I was told. Features from New York are rebroadcast by short waves from stations KDKA, in Pittsburgh, Pa., and WGY, in Schenectady, N. Y. As a result, South America is getting many of our programs.
    "In these experiments," said Mr. Aylesworth, "we have learned some surprising things. For instance, in the north-and-south direction, the short-wave system seems to work pretty well. Eastward and westward, however, the results are not so good. The British Broadcasting Company made great preparations to pick up President Hoover's inaugural address, but all they got clearly was the administration of the oath of office by Chief Justice Taft. "

ANOTHER strange thing is that the power of a station sometimes doesn't seem to have much to do with its range. Take our principal station, WEAF, as an illustration. It is located on Long Island twenty-two miles from New York. Its power is fifty kilowatts, but its signals arrive in Manhattan with an energy of only five kilowatts, and some parts of the city cannot pick them up at all. Station WOR, in Newark, N. J., has only five kilowatts of power, but reaches some parts of New York better than WEAF does. Radio engineers can only partly explain such things. They are mysteries that will have to be solved before international radio becomes entirely dependable."
    "And new developments in broadcasting?" I asked in parting.
    "The presentation of drama over the radio is one thing. Experiments in that direction have met with wide approval. Great plays can be rearranged to carry their appeal through the ear alone. We are also looking forward to sound movies, broadcast from radio stations and received in the home. I doubt whether we will have successful visual presentation by television of events as they occur. Engineers tell me that there are almost insurmountable technical difficulties in the way of such transmission. But we expect, some day, to present the face, and perhaps the figure, of the speaker before the microphone, though not life-size."